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Making a District a Destination

Pete Springer/OPB

A year after Portland Mayor Sam Adams kicked off the process for redesigning the Memorial Coliseum, the plan for the historic building remains murky. A much-touted public process yielded three finalist proposals, but Adams suspended the process before a winner could be chosen. Now, Adams is proposing his own vision for the Coliseum and nearby Rose Quarter, leading some community stakeholders to wonder whether they truly have a say in how the area is redeveloped.

The varied visions for and vested interests in the area are at odds. The Trail Blazers, who play at the Rose Garden and used to call the Coliseum home, are re-envisioning the Rose Quarter as a mixed-use entertainment Mecca reminiscent of Kansas City’s Power and Light District. Doug Obletz, a prominent Portland developer whose design for an amateur athletic complex at the Coliseum was selected by Portland’s City Council as a finalist, wants to see the area become a vibrant residential district and community sports hub built with Portland’s green ethos in mind. The preservationist voices, led by local architects and the veterans whom the Coliseum honors, contend that keeping the building’s innovative design and memorial element intact is the city’s most respectful and sustainable option. And long-time residents of surrounding neighborhoods who remember the displacement of the African American community by the city’s Coliseum construction crews worry that the same groups marginalized 50 years ago will be left behind again.

Can Portland marry historic preservation with revitalization? How do city planners and developers design and build a “destination district” that attracts people from outside Oregon but reflects the vision and needs of those who live nearby?

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